Walmart to require masks at stores starting next week

Walmart is instituting a mandatory mask policy for all customers in Canada starting Wednesday in a move that has been welcomed by some local shoppers.

The rule is being brought in because Health Canada has said face coverings can reduce the spread of COVID-19, said Walmart Canada spokeswoman Felicia Fefer.

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It will also create a consistent policy across the chain’s more than 400 Canadian stores, Fefer said.

More than 60 per cent of Walmart stores are in parts of the country where there is already a local mandate on face coverings.

“Customers have done a great job following face-covering requirements in those jurisdictions where it is mandated by the local government. We trust that customers in the rest of our stores where we are initiating this the policy will respect and follow it and will bring their own face coverings when they shop,” Fefer wrote in an email.

All staff will also be required to wear face coverings in areas of Walmart stores that are used by the public.

Shopper Kael Campbell was happy to hear about the new policy because he worries when he’s in indoor spaces with others who are not covering their faces.

“I stress out when I get into an elevator with a bunch of young guys without masks on,” he said.

Campbell, who was masked as he left Walmart at Uptown shopping centre Wednesday, said fewer than half of the shoppers he encountered while in the store were wearing masks.

He thinks a mandatory mask rule can provide comfort to older people and those with compromised immune systems who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Campbell said he keeps a mask in his vehicle and in his backpack, so he’s always prepared. He works in a building in Uptown that has a mandatory mask policy, although few people follow it, he said. “They might start when they start having to use it at other places.”

Another shopper, Marcey Louie, said she favours a mandatory mask policy because it’s better to err on the side of caution.

She said she sees wearing a mask in busy, indoor spaces as part of her responsibility to protect her loved ones and vulnerable people.

Walmart has seven stores on Vancouver Island, including two in Greater Victoria.

Costco, which has two locations on Vancouver Island, recommends its customers wear masks, but face coverings are not required except in places where local rules mandate mask-wearing in public settings.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she doesn’t expect the province to mandate mask-wearing in outdoor spaces, but mandatory masks could be an option if community transmission increases in places like public transit buses and retail stores.

Henry has said she wears a mask indoors when she can’t physically distance and it’s gratifying to see more people covering up.

Smaller downtown businesses have focused their mask policies on staff, said Jeff Bray, president of the Downtown Victoria Business Association. Most businesses have staff wear masks, or use physical barriers to separate staff and customers, Bray said. Some do both.

There hasn’t been a collective conversation among downtown businesses about mandating masks, Bray said, and enforcing a mask rule would be more complicated for small businesses that don’t have extra staff to greet customers as they enter.

MEC is one downtown store requiring customers to cover their faces, a policy that was set by the store’s headquarters.

Customers must have a mask or something that covers their nose, mouth and chin when entering the store or picking up online orders.

“MEC reserves the right to refuse entry to the store if a mask or face covering is not worn,” the co-op’s website says.

Masks are not supplied, and some customers who have forgotten to bring a face covering have found creative solutions, tying denim jackets or long-sleeve shirts around their faces.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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